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Newsline - September 16, 2003


PUTIN, LUKASHENKA MEET IN SOCHI...
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka met with President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on 15 September, Russian and international media reported. Putin attempted to defuse recent bilateral tensions raised by Lukashenka's resistance to introducing the Russian ruble as the single currency of the two countries and by Russia's decision to end preferential natural-gas pricing for Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2003). After the meeting, Putin said he and Lukashenka agreed on the need "to move to market-based relations" in the gas sphere and to continue negotiations "on creating a joint company for [a] unified pipeline system" -- a reference to the stalled talks over creating a joint-stock gas-transportation company based on Russia's Gazprom and Belarus's Beltransgaz. JB

...AS BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT WARNS THAT UNIFICATION EFFORTS HAVE SUFFERED 'SERIOUS BLOWS'
Lukashenka showed less equanimity, telling Putin that "bad processes" are going on behind their backs and that the "aspirations for unity" between the Russian and Belarusian people have suffered "most serious blows," Russian media reported. Lukashenka added, however, that he thought his meeting with Putin would "help put an end to all sorts of insinuations coming from both sides." In response, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said he does not think Lukashenka's allegation was accurate, Interfax reported on 15 September. JB

ATOMIC ENERGY MINISTER DEFENDS IRAN...
Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev has once again defended Iran from charges that it is violating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), telling ITAR-TASS on 15 September that "there is no convincing evidence to justify complaints against Iran" by the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Speaking at the IAEA's general conference in Vienna, Rumyantsev denied that nuclear cooperation between Iran and Russia, which is helping build the Bushehr nuclear-power plant, violates international law. He even insisted that "under the IAEA charter, nuclear powers are obliged to help other states develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes." JB

...BUT URGES TEHRAN TO RETURN SPENT FUEL
Minister Rumyantsev said Russia is calling for Iran's "immediate and unconditional signing" of an agreement for the return of spent nuclear fuel to Russia, Russian and international media reported. The "Financial Times" reported on 12 September that Iran has told Russia it would have to pay for the return of spent fuel from Bushehr. The newspaper quoted Rumyantsev as saying the Iranian demand is "foolish" and contradicts standard practice. He added, however, that he believes the dispute can be resolved and that Bushehr might go on line by the end of next year. JB

OFFICIAL SAYS RUSSIA NOT CONSIDERING TROOPS FOR IRAQ
Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov said on 15 September that the possibility of Russia contributing troops to a stabilization force in Iraq is "not being considered," ITAR-TASS reported on 15 September. Fedotov reiterated the Russian view that the United Nations' role in stabilizing Iraq should be strengthened, adding that it is important "to set a clear timetable for forming a new government and to draw up a mandate for multinational forces in Iraq." Earlier this month, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said that Russia might be open to contributing troops to a multinational force under UN auspices in Iraq in the near future (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September 2003). As for a new UN Security Council resolution on Iraq, Fedotov said, "The most important thing is not the speed with which a resolution is passed on Iraq, but reaching a consensus on the Iraqi problem in the Security Council," ITAR-TASS reported. JB

RUSSIA MIGHT RENEW REQUEST FOR FORMER OLIGARCH'S EXTRADITION...
Deputy Justice Minister Yurii Kalinin said on 15 September that Moscow will probably insist that the British government reconsider its request for the extradition of self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, Interfax reported. On 12 September, London's Bow Street Magistrates Court dismissed Russia's extradition case against Berezovskii, who has been granted political asylum in Great Britain (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 15 September 2003). Kalinin said he does not think Russia will let the matter rest, adding that the Prosecutor-General's Office has "weighty grounds" for pressing ahead with the extradition procedure. JB

...AND EMPHASIZES CONNECTION WITH EXTRADITION CASE OF CHECHEN PRESIDENT'S REPRESENTATIVE
Kalinin also said he believes the issue of Boris Berezovskii's extradition is connected with the case of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's envoy, Akhmed Zakaev, who is also in Great Britain and who is involved in an extradition proceeding. "Around Zakaev are well-known consultants and other individuals who are in constant contact with Berezovskii," Kalinin said. He added that the Russian authorities will guarantee Zakaev's security if he returns to Russia, Interfax reported. He said there was nothing underhanded or suspicious about the deaths in Russian prisons of prominent Chechen field commanders Turpal-Ali Atgeriev and Salman Raduev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August and 16 December 2002). On 10 September, Russian Minister for Chechen Affairs and former Chechen Premier Stanislav Ilyasov told the London court that is hearing the Zakaev extradition case that the situation in Chechnya is returning to normal, ITAR-TASS reported. JB/LF

YABLOKO, SPS EARN RIGHT TO COLLECT SIGNATURES...
The Central Election Commission (TsIK) on 12 September registered the party lists of Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) for the 7 December State Duma elections, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 September. Yabloko submitted the names of 122 candidates on its party list and those of another 115 candidates planning to run in single-mandate districts. The SPS documents name 228 party-list candidates and 118 candidates in single-mandate districts. The TsIK's action allows Yabloko and the SPS to begin official campaign activities, although they cannot use the media for campaign purposes until after they have qualified for the Duma ballot. In order to qualify for the party-list ballot, Russian law requires political parties and electoral blocs to collect at least 200,000 signatures, with no more than 14,000 signatures coming from any one of Russia's 89 regions. LB

...AS COOPERATION BETWEEN THEM FOUNDERS...
"Gazeta" on 15 September quoted SPS co-Chairman Anatolii Chubais and Yabloko No. 3 party-list candidate Igor Artemev as each blaming the other party for stalled negotiations regarding jointly backing candidates in single-mandate races. Speaking on RTR on 14 September, SPS campaign head Alfred Kokh and his Yabloko counterpart Sergei Ivanenko both said their parties are willing to coordinate candidates, but added that the ball is in the other side's court. The appearance of the so-called Yabloko Without Yavlinskii movement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 2003) has poisoned relations between the two parties. Speaking on TV-Tsentr on 13 September, Yabloko Duma Deputy Sergei Mitrokhin charged that no such movement exists and characterized the incident as "black public relations" and a $5 million "provocation." Yabloko members blame Kokh for orchestrating the stunt, but SPS representatives deny the allegation. LB

...AS IT HAS IN THE PAST
The months preceding the 1999 Duma elections were also marked by failed efforts to unify, or at least coordinate, the campaigns of Yabloko and the SPS, and Yabloko and SPS's ideological predecessor, the Russia's Democratic Choice-United Democrats bloc, were largely unable to cooperate in the 1995 elections as well. LB

ACCUSED LDPR DEPUTY WILL NOT FACE TRIAL
The procurator's office of Moscow's Central district has dropped criminal charges against State Duma Deputy Vladislav Demin (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, or LDPR), "Izvestiya" and "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 September. Demin allegedly assaulted a police officer on 6 May (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 8 May 2003). Prosecutors dropped the charges after Demin and the police agreed not to take the matter to court, but neither side disclosed the terms of that agreement. LB

TRIAL OF MMM FOUNDER BEGINS
The trial of Sergei Mavrodi, mastermind of the infamous Yeltsin-era MMM pyramid scheme, began in Moscow on 15 September, more than seven months after the longtime fugitive was arrested and more than three months after he was indicted on charges of forging documents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2003 and 3 June 2003). ORT television reported that the trial is likely to be lengthy. Following closed-door preliminary hearings, the trial was postponed indefinitely because the court has not received documents demonstrating that Mavrodi is familiar with the charges against him, which include massive fraud. LB

WORLD BANK FUNDS AIDS, TB PROJECT IN RUSSIA
The World Bank will issue a five-year, $150 million loan aimed at preventing, treating, and diagnosing AIDS and tuberculosis in Russia, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 15 September. In accordance with an agreement signed on 12 September by Health Minister Yurii Shevchenko and Richard Clifford, Moscow representative of the World Bank, Russia will repay the loan, which carries an 11 percent interest rate, over 17 years. Officials have not disclosed specifically how the money will be spent. However, "Novye izvestiya" speculated that since the Justice Ministry will administer the loan along with the Health Ministry, the bulk of the loan will probably be spent to diagnose and treat prison inmates who are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In 2002, there were approximately 250,000 people in Russia registered as infected with HIV, including some 9,200 babies born to HIV-positive mothers in 2002 alone. According to a study commissioned for the World Bank, the number of HIV cases in Russia is expected to rise to 1.2 million by 2005 and 5.4 million in 2020. The same study predicted 500 AIDS deaths in Russia per month in 2005, rising to 21,000 deaths per month by 2020. LB

FORMER STAFF CHALLENGES COMMUNISTS' HOLD ON 'PRAVDA'
Former staffers of the newspaper "Pravda" have filed a lawsuit challenging the registration of the newspaper, which now operates as a mouthpiece for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, RTR reported on 15 September. Vadim Gorshenin, one of the plaintiffs, is seeking to deny the current staff the use of the newspaper's famous logo and masthead on the grounds that the rights of the pre-1991 editorial staff were violated when the newspaper was re-registered. For several years, factions on the left wing of Russia's political spectrum have battled for control over "Pravda," and for a time rival editorial staffs published two different editions of the newspaper. Speaking to RTR on 15 September, Oleg Shenin, chairman of the Committee of Representatives of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, complained that "Pravda" was "privatized" by the KPRF, and consequently "does not express all the hopes and aspirations of Soviet communists." Vladimir Ryashin, the secretary of "Pravda," accused the editorial collective on which Gorshenin worked of being " financed by one of the large oligarchic structures." LB

TRUCK BOMB KILLS THREE IN INGUSHETIA
Three people were killed on 15 September and some 31 injured when two suicide bombers drove a truck loaded with explosive through the barriers surrounding the building in Magas, Ingushetia, where the local offices of the Federal Security Service (FSB) were located, Russian media reported. The deputy head of the FSB's Chechen branch, Mikhail Safonov, was among the injured. At an emergency meeting on 16 September, Ingushetia's President Murat Zyazikov ordered police and security officials to intensify their search for those responsible for the bombing, ingushetia.ru reported. LF

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT VISITS ARMENIA
Rolandas Paksas met in Yerevan on 15 September with his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian to discuss expanding cooperation and bilateral economic relations, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. As he had done several days earlier in Tbilisi, Paksas offered to share with Armenia Lithuania's experience of integration into NATO and the EU. Kocharian noted that Armenia does not currently aspire to EU membership, but nevertheless aspires to meet the EU's political and economic standards. In talks with both Kocharian and with Armenian parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, Paksas advocated joint cooperation between the three Baltic and three South Caucasus states. LF

CHINA GRANTS AID PACKAGE TO ARMENIAN AGRICULTURAL SECTOR
An agreement was signed in Yerevan on 15 September under which Beijing will provide Armenia with agricultural aid worth $650,000 to alleviate the damage inflicted upon the country's agricultural sector by the unusually severe winter of 2002-03, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. A Chinese government delegation headed by Politburo member Luo Gan met with President Kocharian, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, all of whom stressed the importance that Yerevan attaches to relations with China. Markarian reaffirmed Armenia's position that Taiwan is an integral part of the territory of the People's Republic of China. LF

ARMENIAN MURDER SUSPECT'S LAWYER CHARGED WITH FRAUD
The Armenian Prosecutor-General's Office has opened a criminal case against lawyer Hovik Arsenian, one of two lawyers representing Armen Sargsian, who is accused with 12 other men of the December 2002 murder of Armenian Public Television and Radio Director Tigran Naghdalian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 15 September. Arsenian is accused of having concealed the fact that he was sentenced to four years' imprisonment in 1997 on a bribery conviction. He was released under an amnesty in 1998, his conviction was overturned in November 2001, and he qualified as a lawyer the following year. People with criminal records are barred from practicing law in Armenia. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT DELEGATION VISITS NAGORNO-KARABAKH
An Armenian parliamentary delegation headed by speaker Baghdasarian visited Stepanakert on 12-14 September, meeting with Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, and with Oleg Yesayan, chairman of the republic's parliament, Noyan Tapan reported. Interfax on 15 September quoted Baghdasarian as saying the visit gave him a clearer picture of the situation in the unrecognized enclave. LF

TWO AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTIES AGREE ON SINGLE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
The Supreme Council of progressive wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP) decided on 14 September to support the candidacy of Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP) Chairman Etibar Mamedov in the 15 October presidential election, Interfax and Turan reported on 14 and 15 September, respectively. AHCP (progressive wing) Chairman Ali Kerimli will therefore withdraw his candidacy, having offered earlier to do so in the event that his party, AMIP, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan and the Musavat Party reached agreement on backing a single opposition candidate. The four party leaders narrowly failed to do so during talks in London last month (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 29 August 2003). According to zerkalo.az on 16 September, Kerimli and Mamedov will sign a formal agreement on 16 September on an election coalition, and if Mamedov is elected president, the AHCP will nominate the prime minister. Kerimli predicted that other opposition parties will also join the AMIP-AHCP coalition, but did not specify which ones. LF

THOUSANDS RALLY IN SUPPORT OF AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION CANDIDATE
Some 10,000 people attended a rally on 14 September in the town of Yevlakh, 300 kilometers north of Baku, in support of AMIP Chairman Mamedov, Turan and zerkalo.az reported on 15 and 16 September, respectively. Mamedov pledged that if elected president, he will launch a state program to develop the region's economy. The local authorities made every effort to prevent voters from attending the rally, closing the two main streets leading to the town's central square where it was to take place, declaring 14 September (a Sunday) a working day, halting buses bringing voters to the rally from neighboring raions, and threatening the inhabitants of outlying villages that they would be stripped of their Azerbaijani citizenship if they attended the rally. On 15 September, Ramiz Orudjev, who heads AMIP's Gyanja branch, was summoned to police for questioning about the previous day's rally and subsequently charged with injuring a pedestrian in a traffic accident one week earlier, Turan reported. LF

PACE DELEGATION MEETS WITH AZERBAIJANI PRIME MINISTER, OPPOSITION LEADERS
Azerbaijani Prime Minister Ilham Aliev assured a visiting delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on 15 September that the 15 October presidential election will be free and democratic, Turan reported. Aliev and his father, incumbent President Heidar Aliev, are both registered as candidates in that ballot. The delegation also met with Mamedov and Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar, both of whom detailed numerous violations of the election law and instances of harassment of opposition presidential candidates and their campaign staff. The PACE delegation met separately with journalists, who complained that opposition candidates are deprived of equal access to the media, especially to the state-controlled main television channels. The first channel of state television is the only television channel that can been seen by viewers throughout the country. LF

BROTHER SAYS PRESIDENT WILL RETURN TO AZERBAIJAN BEFORE ELECTION
Djalal Aliev told journalists in Baku on 15 September that his brother, President Heidar Aliev, will definitely return to Azerbaijan before the 15 October presidential ballot, Interfax reported. President Aliev, who is 80, has been undergoing medical treatment for the past four months, first in Ankara and since 6 August at the Cleveland Clinic in the United States. Djalal Aliev said his brother is not suffering from any illness and is undergoing treatment only for a fractured rib. A spokeswoman for the Cleveland Clinic said on 13 September that President Aliev is undergoing rehabilitation and physical therapy in preparation for his return to Azerbaijan, Reuters reported. The clinic earlier revealed that the president was undergoing treatment for cardiac and kidney problems (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2003). LF

GEORGIAN JUSTICE MINISTER SUBMITS RESIGNATION
Roland Giligashvili formally submitted his resignation to President Eduard Shevardnadze on 15 September, but it is not clear whether Shevardnadze has accepted it, Caucasus Press reported. In his letter, Giligashvili explained his resignation in terms of the current crime situation and moral climate in Georgia, adding that Shevardnadze ignored his repeated pleas to take action to remedy the situation, according to the daily "Alia" on 16 September, as quoted by Caucasus Press. In his regular Monday radio interview, Shevardnadze on 15 September again said that the transfer of responsibility for the Georgian prison system from the Interior Ministry to the Justice Ministry was premature (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 3 July 2003). A lack of trained guards at prisons was the primary reason for the series of high-profile jailbreaks, culminating in the escape late on 10 September of 129 prisoners from the Rustavi penitentiary (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 15 September 2003). Seven of those escapees have been apprehended in Azerbaijan, raising the number recaptured to 72, Caucasus Press reported on 16 September. LF

IMPRISONED KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADER ASKS NOT TO BE PROSECUTED
Former governor of Pavlodar Oblast and co-founder of the opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) association Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov has requested that he not be prosecuted in additional criminal cases, and he has offered to abandon politics in exchange for a presidential pardon, Deputy Chairman of the National Security Committee (NSC) Kozy-Korpesh Karbuzov told a news conference in Astana on 15 September, khabar.kz and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. According to Karbuzov, the NSC considers Zhaqiyanov's request an attempt to avoid criminal responsibility. Zhaqiyanov was given a seven-year prison sentence in 2002 upon being convicted of abuse of office. He is now facing another embezzlement charge, following further NSC investigations in Pavlodar Oblast. According to Karbuzov, the case was initiated after Zhaqiyanov requested a presidential pardon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14, 26, and 29 August 2003). BB

KAZAKH DEFENSE MINISTRY SIGNS BILATERAL COOPERATION PLAN WITH U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT
Kazakhstan's Defense Ministry and the U.S. Defense Department have signed a five-year cooperation plan, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 September. The document, which was signed in Washington, was drafted by a joint consultative commission on defense and security. It includes the delivery to Kazakhstan of helicopters and other aircraft and of ships up to 1,000 tons. According to the report, Kazakhstan has already received Humvee military vehicles. The plan also includes the supply of U.S.-made equipment to Kazakhstan's alpine troops and the establishment of a center for antiterrorism training. BB

PREMIER SAYS KYRGYZSTAN WILL NOT ASK FOR WITHDRAWAL OF COALITION BASE
Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev told a news conference on 15 September that Kyrgyzstan will not ask for the closure of the base being used by the international antiterrorism coalition to support its operations in Afghanistan, Interfax reported. Tanaev said he was reacting to a call by a number of parliamentarians for the annulment of the agreement on use of coalition air bases in Kyrgyzstan. That agreement, ratified by the Kyrgyz parliament in December 2001, can be annulled if either side informs the other of its intention to withdraw 180 days before the agreement expires. Otherwise, the agreement is automatically extended for another year. Tanaev said that the Kyrgyz government considers it unwise to annul the agreement because Afghanistan still poses a threat to the region. BB

GOVERNMENT-SPONSORED MEDIA COUNCIL SET UP IN KYRGYZSTAN
A national conference on the media and civil society organized by the presidential press service took place on Lake Issyk-Kul on 12-13 September and ended with the creation of a media council, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and akipress.org reported on 14 September and 15 September, respectively. The declared objective of the council is to settle conflicts arising from the professional work of journalists before they reach the courts. It comprises parliamentarian Zaynidin Kurmanov, television presenter Tamara Valieva, university professor Kadyr Omurkulov, BBC correspondent Tolkunbek Turdubaev, correspondents Yevgenii Denisenko of the pro-government daily "Vechernii Bishkek" and Vadim Nochevkin of the independent newspaper "Delo No," "Osh Sadosi" Editor in Chief Abdugani Abdugafarov, independent Pyramid TV Vice President Murat Kaipov, and media producer Aktan Abdykalykov. Opposition journalists at the conference said the media council will likely play the role of media overseer for the president's office. BB

KYRGYZ OMBUDSMAN SAYS PENAL FACILITIES DON'T MEET MINIMUM STANDARDS
Having just completed an inspection of penal facilities in southern Kyrgyzstan, Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu told a press conference on 15 September that the country's penitentiary system does not meet minimal international standards, kabar.kg reported. Among the problems he cited were overcrowding, poor ventilation, poor nutrition, the unavailability of medicines, and a shortage of lawyers. Bakir-uulu blamed the situation primarily on a lack of funding and said he is preparing reports for the Justice and Interior ministries. BB

ISLAMIC PARTY LEADER SATISFIED WITH SITUATION FOR POLITICAL PARTIES IN TAJIKISTAN
Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) Chairman Said Abdullo Nuri told journalists after his re-election at a party congress on 13 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2003) that present conditions for the functioning of political parties, including religion-based ones, in Tajikistan can be considered satisfactory, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 15 September. Nuri noted that the government provided security for the congress of the opposition IRPT, and added that the party will cooperate with the government if it is seen to be solving problems "in the interests of the whole people." Nuri also rejected media reports that he might be appointed mufti of Tajikistan. BB

TAJIK OFFICIAL SAYS MOST DRUGS BEING TRAFFICKED THROUGH AREAS GUARDED BY RUSSIANS
Rustam Nazarov, director of Tajikistan's Drug Control Agency, told a news conference on 15 September that up to 90 percent of the contraband drugs being trafficked into Tajikistan from Afghanistan are being brought in through areas guarded by Russian border troops, RIA-Novosti reported. Nazarov attributed this to the successful blocking of the highway to Osh in neighboring Kyrgyzstan as a drug-transit route. He quoted international estimates that 70 percent of Afghanistan's drug output is exported through Iran and Pakistan, with 30 percent passing through Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. BB

UZBEKISTAN INVITED TO TAKE PART IN NATO EXERCISES IN ROMANIA
Uzbekistan is the only Central Asian country that has been invited to participate in NATO exercises to be held in Romania in October, centran.ru reported on 15 September. Between 10 and 20 Uzbek service personnel are scheduled to participate in the exercises, which will focus on countering a terrorist attack using a "dirty" bomb, a conventional explosive used to scatter low-level radioactivity over a wide area. They will also take part in a seminar that will be held at the same time. BB

BELARUSIAN ELECTORAL OFFICIAL OPPOSES CHANGES TO ELECTION LAW
Belarusian Electoral Commission Chairwoman Lidziya Yarmoshyna said in Minsk on 15 September that the introduction of any changes into Belarus's election regulations might derail the 2004 parliamentary election campaign, as the central election commission will soon have to draw up guidelines for local election commissions and set the borders of election constituencies, Belapan reported. Yarmoshyna was speaking at a seminar held jointly by the National Assembly (Belarus's legislature) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Yarmoshyna rejected criticism from PACE participants in the seminars who argued that Belarus's Electoral Code lacks transparency in provisions regarding the formation of local election commissions, voter registration, and vote counting procedures. The Respublika caucus in the Chamber of Representatives has recently proposed amending the Electoral Code by abolishing early voting, introducing representatives of political parties and non-governmental organizations on local election commissions, and giving more rights to election observers. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT DISCUSSES DRAFT ACCORD ON CIS SINGLE ECONOMIC AREA
Following a request from Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September), the Verkhovna Rada on 16 September began to mull the controversial draft accord between Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine on the creation of a single economic zone, Ukrainian news agencies reported. Deputy Premier Mykola Azarov, who represented Kyiv in drafting the accord, told lawmakers that the document does not threaten Ukraine's accession to the World Trade Organization or its future integration with the European Union. Azarov also argued that the accord will not impair the country's sovereignty. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Hryshchenko said Kyiv should sign this accord with "reservations" in order to avoid violating the country's constitution and legislation. Our Ukraine, led by Viktor Yushchenko, issued a statement on 15 September calling on President Leonid Kuchma not to sign this accord. JM

NEW U.S. AMBASSADOR TAKES DUTY IN UKRAINE
John Herbst, the new U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, presented his credentials to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Hryshchenko in Kyiv on 15 September, Ukrainian news agencies reported. "My primary goal is to improve our bilateral relations in all aspects," Herbst told journalists after his meeting with Hryshchenko. "As Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and the [Ukrainian] government, we too want to see Ukraine integrated into the Euroatlantic community," Interfax quoted Herbst as saying. Herbst previously served as ambassador to Tashkent. JM

ESTONIA'S LAST ANNUAL NATIONAL PLAN FOR NATO
The ministerial commission for handling NATO-related matters approved Estonia's Annual National Plan (ANP) for NATO accession for the years 2003-2004 on 15 September, BNS reported. This is the fifth and final ANP, as Estonia will join the alliance in 2004. The plan's contents will become partially public after it is submitted to NATO in October, but should not differ much from earlier ANPs. The government is expected to officially approve the plan on 18 September. This is considered certain as the commission, headed by Prime Minister Juhan Parts, includes the defense, finance, foreign, interior, and justice ministers, as well as the commander of Estonia's defense forces. SG

FINNISH PRESIDENT DISCUSSES EU DEVELOPMENTS IN LATVIA
Tarja Halonen began a one-day visit to Latvia on 15 September with a meeting in Riga with her Latvian counterpart, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, LETA reported. They expressed satisfaction that Estonia voted in a referendum the previous day to join the EU. After a press conference, the presidents traveled to the town of Sigulda, 50 kilometers northeast of Riga, to take part in a debate on the EU with local residents, organized by the newspaper "Lauku Avize." Vike-Freiberga urged people to vote in favor of EU membership in the 20 September referendum. Halonen said the EU supports the culture of small states and that Latvia will become better known in Europe if it joins the EU. She noted that Latvia's membership should increase the influence of small states in the EU and, upon membership, Latvian would become one of its official languages. SG

GERMAN CHANCELLOR PRAISES LITHUANIA'S ECONOMIC GROWTH
Gerhard Schroeder told Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas in a 20-minute meeting in Berlin on 15 September that Lithuania's economic development is proof of its readiness to join the EU, ELTA reported. Brazauskas asked Germany to support the recent call by the Baltic, Finnish, and Polish Prime Ministers to place the Rail Baltica and the Lithuania-Poland power bridge projects on the EU's list of priority projects (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2003). Later talks with Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit focused on economic cooperation, with the mayor promising to visit Lithuania next year. Brazauskas is making a four-day working visit to Germany during which he is scheduled to visit four German states and meet with leaders of large German companies such as E.ON Energie, Ruhrgas, Continental, and ERGO. SG

POLISH PREMIER'S CHIEF OF STAFF DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN RYWINGATE
Aleksandra Jakubowska, chief of staff of Prime Minister Leszek Miller's cabinet, told journalists on 15 September that she was not involved in the bribery scandal known in Poland as Rywingate (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 14 January 2003) and is not going to resign, Polish media reported. While testifying earlier this month before the parliamentary commission investigating the scandal, former PAP journalist Anna Wojciechowska suggested that Jakubowska in 2002 might have intentionally deleted two words from the media bill that lies at the heart of the Rywingate scandal. JM

CZECH GOVERNMENT WITHOUT PARLIAMENTARY MAJORITY AHEAD OF CRUCIAL VOTE
Josef Hojdar, who left the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) parliamentary group in July in protest against planned budget cuts, said on 16 September that he will definitely not support the cabinet in parliament when it submits its proposals for the cuts, CTK reported. If his threat is carried out, the cabinet risks the rejection of the reforms, which would likely lead to Premier Vladimir Spidla's resignation. A meeting of coalition parties on 14 September approved the final version of the proposed cuts and did not include the changes Hojdar said would be required to secure his support. He said he believes the CSSD has allowed itself to be "pushed into the corner" by coalition partners Christian Democratic Movement-People's Party and Freedom Union-Democratic Union. MS

CZECH OPPOSITION CHIEF MAKES PLANS FOR 'MORNING AFTER'...
Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Chairman Miroslav Topolanek said told the daily "Pravo" of 15 September that it would be best if possible early parliamentary elections are held under a single-mandate "first-past-the-post" system rather than the current proportional system. Topolanek said this would require amending the constitution. He reiterated that in the event Premier Spidla's cabinet falls, the ODS would only consider joining the cabinet if the government were allowed to oversee the transition to early elections. Topolanek said a new government would be easier to form after changing the electoral system and would be able to lean on a larger majority than the current cabinet. The ODS intends to initiate a motion of no confidence in the cabinet when the fall parliamentary session begins on 23 September. MS

...WHILE INCUMBENT MINISTER WARNS OF 'MORNING HEADACHE'
CSSD Deputy Chairman Zdenek Skromach, who is also labor and social affairs minister, told CTK on 15 September that if the cabinet falls, the next premier is likely to be a technocrat with no party affiliation, as was the caretaker cabinet headed by banker Josef Tosovsky in 1998. This would be a "wall-to-wall" cabinet including all parties except the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, he predicted. Skromach said only such a cabinet would be prepared to implement far more painful reforms, as it would not feel bound to any political formation. No party, he said, wants to assume responsibility for such a program. MS

ROMANIAN, HUNGARIAN PRESIDENTS DISCUSS FATE OF ARAD MONUMENT
Visiting Romanian President Ion Iliescu and his Hungarian counterpart, Ferenc Madl, meeting in Budapest on 15 September, failed to reach any agreement over re-erecting of the controversial Liberty Monument in the Romanian city of Arad, Hungarian media reported. According to "Nepszabadsag," the two presidents "agreed in more than two hours of talks that they wish to shape bilateral relations in the spirit of pan-European values," but a "dialogue between deaf people" took place regarding the monument commemorating the 1848 Hungarian revolution. Iliescu has come up with a compromise proposal for a statue park symbolizing reconciliation between the two nations where the Liberty Monument could be placed. Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs said after meeting his counterpart, Mircea Geoana, that Budapest is not rejecting the Hungarian-Romanian reconciliation park proposal. He told Hungarian radio, however, that Budapest still wants to see the Liberty Monument erected in Arad. MSZ

HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT'S PROPOSAL ON TAX HIKES RE-EMERGES
The government on 15 September put forth its proposed changes to Hungary's tax code in 2004, submitting the package to the National Interest Reconciliation Board for discussion, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. According to the latest round of proposals, a new energy tax will be levied on industrial natural gas and electricity use next year, which would increase prices by 4.6 to 6 percent and 0.8 to 1.6 percent, respectively. This would result in a 1-percent electricity price increase for households as well. Furthermore, a new environmental tax on water pollution would increase the price of sewer fees for households by 9 percent. The company tax rate would be reduced from 18 to 16 percent, while the value-added tax would be restructured. If the current plan is approved, the tax brackets for personal income will be 18, 26, and 38 percent, instead of the present 20, 30, and 40 percent, the daily reported. MSZ

HUNGARIAN SOCIALIST PARTY CHAIRMAN CHIDES PROSECUTOR-GENERAL...
Laszlo Kovacs told local residents in the town of Balmazujvaros on 13 September that, in several cases in which hundreds of millions of forints in public money have allegedly been squandered, the Prosecutor-General's Office has failed to prosecute those at fault, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Opposition FIDESZ deputy Robert Repassy reacted to Kovacs' comments by saying on 14 September that "it will not shed good light on Hungary if the Socialists choose a leader to represent them in the EU Parliament who is unable to understand that, in the European Union, it is not the politicians who tell the prosecutor's office whom to file charges against and whom not to file charges against," the MTI news agency reported. For his part, Zoltan Lomnici, president of the Supreme Court, said that court verdicts might be subject to professional analyses, but they must not become the targets of political attacks, the agency reported. MSZ

...WHO, IN TURN, REJECTS CRITICISM
Prosecutor-General Peter Polt on 15 September firmly rejected Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs' recent charges that the prosecutor's office does its work in a way "smacking of aiding and abetting the criminals," Hungarian radio reported. Parliament's constitutional and judicial committees held a joint meeting to discuss whether the prosecutor-general can be questioned in parliament. Polt said he finds it worrisome that he could be required to provide answers at parliament's plenary session regarding cases that are still open, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Governing coalition deputies say it is Polt's duty to answer all questions put to him by parliamentarians. Opposition FIDESZ deputy Laszlo Salamon has said, however, that it is sufficient for Polt to make sure his office operates appropriately, and it is not necessary for him to provide answers regarding specific cases. MSZ

SLOVENIAN-CROATIAN BORDER TALKS OPEN
In the Slovenian spa town of Smarjeske Toplice, Lower Carniola, on 16 September, teams of experts from Slovenia and Croatia began discussions regarding Croatia's plans to declare an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the Adriatic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 and 22 August, and 5 September 2003). Citing unnamed diplomatic sources, the Croatian news agency Hina reported that the experts will not reach any formal conclusions or produce any final document. PM

GERMAN TELEVISION BROADCASTER WINS CROATIAN CHANNEL
The Croatian Radio and Television Council announced on 16 September that it has awarded the concession for the third national television channel to Germany's RTL, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

CROATIAN POLICE MAKE BIG COCAINE HAUL
Police in Rovinj on the Istrian peninsula seized a boat sailing under the Austrian flag on 14 September, Croatian police told journalists the next day, dpa reported. Police arrested three Croats and one Slovene, all of whom were armed, and confiscated 336 kilograms of cocaine with an estimated street value of almost $15 million. The men were allegedly bringing the drugs from an unspecified Latin American country for the Croatian, Slovenian, and West European markets. Italian police cooperated in the operation. PM

BOSNIAN SERBS SELLING OFF SURPLUS WEAPONS
On 15 September, the Bosnian Serb authorities began their review of bids from 11 foreign and local firms to buy huge quantities of arms and ammunition left over from the 1992-95 Bosnian war, regional and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2003). The final decision will be made once NATO peacekeepers have vetted the applicants, who come from Canada, Bosnia, and Serbia and Montenegro. A Bosnian Serb Defense Ministry spokesman said most of the offers are for ammunition. He noted that prices range from $19 for 1,000 rounds of pistol ammunition, to $1,500 for an anti-aircraft gun. The spokesman stressed that all prices have been made public to ensure transparency. In former Yugoslavia, much of the arms industry and many military storage areas were located in Bosnia, which the leadership of Josip Broz Tito considered relatively inaccessible to any potential invader. PM

WAR CRIMES ENVOY POSTPONES BOSNIAN TRIP
The Office of the High Representative (OHR) announced in Sarajevo on 16 September the planned visit of the U.S. war crimes envoy, Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper, has been postponed, the Serbian private news agency Beta reported. No details are available. Prosper was scheduled to discuss war crimes issues with Bosnian leaders and High Representative Paddy Ashdown. PM

MACEDONIAN-ALBANIAN OPPOSITION LEADER SAYS ETHNIC COEXISTENCE IMPOSSIBLE
Arben Xhaferi, who chairs the opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 14 September that he supports of the idea of ethnic self-determination and dividing Macedonia along ethnic lines because he believes that other options for multiethnic coexistence have failed. Xhaferi recalled that after the dissolution of former Yugoslavia, the international community was reluctant to recognize the independence of the successor states. "I do not believe that changing borders is the only solution [to ethnic problems], but interethnic relations must otherwise be based on equal rights," Xhaferi said. "It is time to look at other possible solutions in view of the fact that [Macedonia's Albanians] do not have equal rights, that coexistence is becoming more difficult on a daily basis, and that the [two main] ethnic groups keep their distance from each other," Xhaferi added (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 and 25 April 2003). UB

ALBANIA, MACEDONIA, CROATIA SIGN DEFENSE PACT
The defense ministers of Albania, Macedonia, and Croatia signed a joint declaration in Tirana on 12 September, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. The document helps consolidate the Adriatic Charter that the foreign ministers of the three countries signed in May, together with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 9 May, and 23 and 24 June 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002 and 27 June 2003). Albanian Defense Minister Pandeli Majko noted at the latest trilateral meeting that Tirana, Skopje, Zagreb, Prishtina, Belgrade, and Podgorica all have contributions to make to regional stability, which is indivisible. Macedonian Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski stressed the need for cooperation in combating international terrorism and organized crime. Croatian Defense Minister Zeljka Antunovic invited her colleagues to hold their November meeting in Croatia. PM

ALBANIAN SOLDIER INJURED IN IRAQI GRENADE ATTACK
Unknown militants in the Iraqi city of Mosul threw a grenade at a group of Albanian soldiers on 15 September, injuring at least one Albanian and 13 Iraqi bystanders, Reuters reported. Details of the incident remain unclear (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June and 29 July 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 February, 28 March, and 27 June 2003). PM

MAJOR SERBIAN TRIAL OPENS
The trial of a group of gangland suspects indicted for the June 2002 murder of former Serbian deputy police chief general Bosko Buha opened in Belgrade on 16 September, regional and international media reported. The Buha killing is regarded by many as a forerunner to the 12 March 2003 assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 24 June 2002, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March and 9 May 2003). PM

PROTESTERS BLOCK SERBIAN HIGHWAY
An unspecified number of workers from the Elan food processing company in Srbobran, 100 kilometers north of Belgrade, blocked the E-75 highway linking Belgrade and Novi Sad with Subotica and Budapest on 16 September for the second consecutive day, dpa reported. The protesters want back salaries and benefits, which have not been paid since August 2001, and a clear privatization plan for Elan, which falls under the murky former Yugoslav category of "socially owned." The workers have threatened to block the highway for a longer period each successive day until their demands are met. PM

IMF REPRESENTATIVE HINTS ROMANIA MIGHT MISS LAST LOAN TRANCHE
Graeme Justice, IMF representative in Romania, hinted on 15 September that the IMF executive board might refuse to disburse the last tranche of the current $383 million standby loan if some key loss-making enterprises are not privatized by the end of this month. In an interview with RFE/RL, Justice mentioned as examples the Brasov-based Roman truckmaker and the Campulung-based ARO automaker. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT RALLIES TO HEALTH MINISTER'S DEFENSE...
President Ion Iliescu said on 15 September that he has "full confidence" in Health Minister Mircea Beuran, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Iliescu said a "vile" campaign has been launched against Beuran because the health minister has taken measures aimed at combating illegalities in the health system and has thereby encroached on interests of hospital directors. Beuran, who was appointed to his position earlier this year, has been accused in the media of having plagiarized a French medical treatise. He is also Iliescu's personal doctor. MS

...AS LIBERAL PARTY LEADER DEMANDS HIS DISMISSAL
National Liberal Party Chairman Theodor Stolojan demanded on 15 September that Beuran and European Integration Minister Hildegard Puwak be dismissed from the government, Mediafax reported. Stolojan said his party has repeatedly asked that Puwak be dismissed and believes it is "intolerable" for her to remain in the cabinet due to her allegedly favoring family members when allocating EU funds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2003). He also said Beuran should resign in order to safeguard his reputation. "Personally, I believe that Minister Beuran has an important scientific record, but I also think that what he did is unacceptable," Stolojan said. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SAYS LOSS OF LOAN IS NO REASON TO MOAN
President Vladimir Voronin said on 15 September that Moldovans should be glad the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have decided to freeze loans to their country, Infotag reported. Voronin said the Paris Club of leading international creditor countries is "a trap" for Moldova and that "no family can eternally live on credit. We must learn how to live without debts." The president said Moldova's international debt has reached $1.3 billion and the country will have to spend 31 percent of its budget servicing that debt. The debt restructuring which some hope for from the Paris Club, he said, is a trap because as time goes by, interest grows higher and higher. MS

PPCD YOUTH WING CRITICIZES COMMUNIST RULERS
In a resolution adopted at its national conference on 14 September, the youth wing of the Popular Party Christian Democratic, also known as New Generation, said the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) is imposing upon Moldovan society a "profoundly antinational policy" aiming at the "Russification of the Romanian majority" and all national minorities, Flux reported the next day. New Generation also said it is opposed to the plans to bring about Moldova's federalization and accused the government for being responsible for the current "profound economic and social crisis." It also said the ruling PCM is attempting to restrict democratic liberties and replace them with a dictatorship. MS

TRANSDNIESTER OFFICIAL WANTS RUSSIA TO GRANT CITIZENSHIP
Transdniester Supreme Soviet speaker Grigorii Marakutsa said on 15 September that Russia should apply the Abkhaz precedent and grant Russian citizenship to ethnic Russians who live in Transdniester, Flux reported. Marakutsa said that this right should be extended to those born in [Soviet] Russia who have relatives there and who live outside of Russia independently of their own volition. He said it was "absurd" that more than 100,000 Russians live in Transdniester but may not vote in the elections for the Duma that are slated for December. MS

MOLDOVA DENIES THAT POLITICAL STRINGS PROMPTED 'TELEPHONE WAR'
Reintegration Minister Vasilii Sova said in an interview with RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova service on 15 September that no hidden political motives were behind the recent "telephone war" between Moldova and Tiraspol (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2003). Sova said the conflict was between two commercial companies on opposite banks of the Dniester River. RFE/RL's Chisinau correspondent reported that Tiraspol has blocked lines from Moldova to Transdniester, but those in the separatist province can phone the Moldovan side. MS

BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER NOMINATES CONTROVERSIAL COORDINATOR FOR SPECIAL SERVICES...
In a surprising move, a government spokesman announced on 15 September that Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski has nominated retired General Brigo Asparuhov as coordinator for the country's special services, which include the National Intelligence Service (NRS), the National Security Service (NSS), the National Service for Combating Organized Crime (NSBOP), police services, and the Defense Ministry's special services, mediapool.bg reported. Asparuhov, now a lawmaker for the opposition Socialist Party (BSP), headed the NRS until 1997, when he was sacked by the now-opposition conservative United Democratic Forces (ODS). Earlier this year, NATO members protested the planned nomination of Asparuhov as head of the NRS for his involvement in the communist-era secret service and his contacts with the KGB (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2002 and 10 February and 3 September 2003). UB

...WHILE MINISTERS ARE UNCLEAR ABOUT NOMINEE'S ROLE
The ministers affected by the Asparuhov's nomination -- Interior Minister Georgi Petkanov, Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov, and Deputy Prime Minister Plamen Panayotov -- reacted with restraint to the news, mediapool.bg reported. While Petkanov would not say if he was informed of the step, which affects five services that his ministry oversees, Svinarov said Saxecoburggotski had consulted him about the nomination. Asked about the possible consequences of the nomination for Bulgaria's NATO membership, Svinarov said, "I do not believe the prime minister must consult the NATO partners about [any nominations for] his political cabinet." Svinarov added that Asparuhov will be more of an adviser than a coordinator, as Panayotov formally will remain in charge of the coordination of the secret services. UB

RECORD PARTICIPATION IN BULGARIAN LOCAL ELECTIONS
Some 143 political parties, a record high, have thus far officially registered to participate in the 26 October local elections, a spokesman of the Central Election Commission announced on 15 September, vsekiden.com reported. The spokesman added that participation is considerably higher than in the previous mayoral elections, when just 90 parties took part. UB

UZBEKISTAN'S NEW BALANCING ACT AFTER THE SCO SUMMIT


The Foreign Ministers' Council of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) -- comprising Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, and China -- met in a special session on 5 September in the Uzbek capital Tashkent. The session's official purpose was to review progress in implementing agreements concluded during the organization's May meeting in Moscow. But the diplomatic formalities barely concealed a struggle being played out at the heart of the SCO, as Russia and China, alarmed by Washington's burgeoning influence in the region, work to drag Central Asia out of the U.S. camp.

The Tashkent summit was framed by visits by Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing to the capitals of the region to sign a series of cooperation agreements with his Central Asian counterparts. At the center of the drama is Uzbekistan, which last week was trying to maintain some kind of balanced and equidistant footing between Russia and the United States, even as its allegiance becomes the focus of a tug-of-war between the two powers.

The summit of foreign ministers in Tashkent was preceded by a meeting of the six SCO member states' prosecutors-general on 4 September in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, where they approved a strategy for cooperation in fighting international terrorism and organized crime, drugs and arms trafficking, religious extremism, and separatism. President Askar Akaev addressed the gathering and called for SCO countries, faced by such global threats, to boost national security and regional cooperation, the Kabar news agency reported. Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General Myktybek Abdyldaev, speaking after the meeting, said that he thought the common approach to law enforcement cooperation just agreed by SCO prosecutors would be a concrete step in this direction.

The SCO summit also aimed to coordinate the organization's approach to a number of international policy issues ahead of the 58th session of the UN General Assembly later this month. The foreign ministers issued a communique on 5 September in which they simultaneously called for the UN to take on a larger role in Iraq and expressed their own countries' readiness to contribute to Iraq's reconstruction. They voiced support for efforts toward the peaceful resolution of the dispute over North Korea's nuclear program. As for Afghanistan, they called for more multilateral aid, stressed the need for general elections to be held in 2004 (ironic, in view of the less-than-perfect democratic credentials of the SCO states themselves), and proposed that the international community elaborate a strategy under UN auspices to combat Afghan narcotics trafficking, Russian and Central Asian media reported.

Since its foundation in 1996, the SCO has suffered from a lack of defining purpose and an absence of functioning infrastructure. The Pentagon's move into Central Asia in the wake of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks helped provide the former, as Russia and China became prime movers in efforts to pitch the SCO as a regional security alternative to U.S. unilateralism. And important steps were taken to establish the latter, as Uzbek Foreign Minister Sodyq Safaev announced on 5 September that a permanent SCO secretariat will start working in Beijing on 1 January 2004, and the executive committee of a new Regional Antiterrorism Center would open in Tashkent on 1 November, uzreport.com said. But on the previous day Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said the center will not open earlier than next January, eurasianet.org noted on 5 September.

The center's location, which was long planned to be Bishkek, was suddenly changed to Tashkent apparently after Uzbek President Islam Karimov discussed it with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in the Uzbek city of Samarkand in August. The SCO has never offered the public a reasoned justification for the move. Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov gave journalists on 6 September what sounded like a face-saving explanation for his country's seemingly passive acceptance of Uzbekistan's demand that the center be transferred to Tashkent. According to Aitmatov, the Kyrgyz request that the center be set up in Bishkek was made in 2000 following incursions into Kyrgyzstan by Islamic militants in 1999 and 2000. But the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition has been so successful in eliminating terrorist bases in Afghanistan that Kyrgyzstan is no longer directly threatened with extremist incursions. Consequently, Uzbekistan is more "sensitive" to extremism than Kyrgyzstan is, Aitmatov said.

A more likely explanation relates to Putin's efforts to loosen Uzbekistan's security ties to the U.S., binding it more closely to Russia in political and economic dimensions, and to the SCO as an alternative in the security dimension. The Samarkand summit marked a watershed in bilateral relations, with Karimov all but admitting that he had been obliged, primarily through economic necessity, into adopting a less independent and adversarial position toward Moscow not only in matters of business and trade but across the board. Since then senior Uzbek officials have been in damage-control mode, offering repeated assurances that the U.S.-Uzbek partnership will not be affected. Karimov said on Uzbek TV on 29 August that attention given to strengthening Uzbek-Russian relations should not be interpreted to mean that Tashkent is "drifting toward Russia."

Foreign Minister Safaev backed his boss in a 3 September interview with the news agency Interfax. "I am deeply convinced," he said, "that those who believe that stronger ties with one country would inevitably weaken relations with another are mistaken." Safaev continued in the same tone in an interview with the newspaper "Kommersant-Daily" carried by uzreport.com on 9 September. He said that after "a period of coolness and estrangement" Uzbekistan's friendship with Russia is growing warmer, but insisted there are no ramifications for the U.S. military presence in Uzbekistan: "This matter was not raised in the course of the meeting in Samarkand," he said.

Given the scale of the benefits, particularly political and military, that Uzbekistan has gained from its strategic partnership with the United States, it is clear why Karimov, Safaev, and their colleagues are so anxious that relations will remain unchanged. But repeating that something is so, however insistently, is not the same as making it so. Some reconfiguration of Uzbekistan's present relationship appears inevitable if, for instance, the regional security priorities of the U.S. military, stationed at Hanabad air base in southwestern Uzbekistan, come to clash with those of a Russian- and Chinese-dominated SCO with its Antiterrorism Center in Tashkent. Uzbekistan will then become subject to the same competitive forces as Kyrgyzstan may be facing, sooner rather than later, by its decision to host CIS Collective Security Treaty troops a few dozen kilometers from U.S.-led coalition forces at Kant and Manas air bases, respectively.

Perhaps such considerations are part of the reason why Tashkent, having accepted the SCO's mission as an antiterrorism outfit, is simultaneously trying to de-emphasize its military aspects in favor of economic cooperation. In August, the organization invested heavily in boosting its credibility as a military alternative to the U.S. by staging extensive maneuvers in Kazakhstan and China. Uzbekistan, however, did not participate, and it has preferred to propound less aggressive outlooks for the SCO as a regional grouping, such as harmonizing customs regimes, lowering trade barriers, and stimulating complementary economies. These are points that Safaev chose to stress after last week's Tashkent summit, according to Uzbek media sources. Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev similarly alleged on 5 September that economic collaboration is a priority issue for the SCO, uzreport.com noted. He said the member states are especially interested in cooperating on transport, energy, technology sharing, and improving the investment climate.

Significantly -- in view of the fact that Kazakhstan is also trying to triangulate between Moscow, Beijing, and Washington, although its security and defense relationship with the United States is not as developed as Uzbekistan's -- Toqaev also came out against any more large-scale SCO antiterrorism military exercises on the grounds that the fight against terrorism was the responsibility of law enforcement agencies, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. He argued that such activities create a mistaken impression of SCO goals within the world community.

15 NEO-TALIBAN FIGHTERS REPORTEDLY KILLED IN SOUTHEASTERN AFGHANISTAN...
At least 15 neo-Taliban fighters were killed in clashes with U.S. forces in Kandahar Province's Maruf District on 15 September, the Pakistani daily "Dawn" reported on 16 September, citing U.S. Central Command (Centcom) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2003). The report added that U.S.-led coalition forces suffered no casualties in the operations, codenamed Mountain Viper, which seeks to deny the neo-Taliban the ability to operate in southern Afghanistan. The neo-Taliban forces engaged in the fighting reportedly came from neighboring Zabul Province. AT

...INCLUDING A SENIOR COMMANDER...
Afghan officials in Kabul have said that one of the 15 neo-Taliban fighters killed in Maruf was Mulla Abdul Rahim, a senior commander of the ousted Taliban regime, "Dawn" reported on 16 September. According to the report, neo-Taliban sources said that Abdul Rahim is alive. However, Mulla Abdul Rauf, another commander of the neo-Taliban forces confirmed that Abdul Rahim was killed in the 15 September fighting, Reuters reported the next day. AT

...WHO DENIES REPORTS OF HIS DEMISE
A caller identifying himself as Mulla Abdul Rahim told Reuters on 16 September that "the Taliban movement cannot be weakened by spreading news of my death," and added that he is "alive and all right." Conflicting reports from Afghan authorities regarding the death of neo-Taliban leaders is not unusual. On 31 March, former Kandahar Province Governor Gol Agha Sherzai claimed Abdul Rahim was killed in operations carried out in Oruzgan Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April and 21 July 2003). AT

COMMISSION TO PROBE ALLEGED AFGHAN LAND GRABS...
Afghan Transitional Administration spokesman Jawyed Ludin said on 15 September that a commission will be established in near future to examine the issue of land grabs by powerful government officials, Radio Afghanistan reported. The formation of the commission is apparently a response to comments made on 11 September by UN special envoy Miloon Kothari. While addressing Afghans' right to adequate housing, Kothari accused Afghan Transitional Administration Deputy Chairman and Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim and other leading government figures of appropriating land, the BBC reported on 14 September. Kothari suggested that Fahim and others involved in the alleged land-grab scheme should be removed from office. Ludin said that "no deputy head of the government, minister or other government official was authorized to decide on the distribution of plots of land." AT

...AS KABUL PAPER BEMOANS ILLEGAL SEIZURE OF PROPERTY
Stating that illegal seizure of property is among the many negative legacies of the war in Afghanistan, the Kabul daily "Anis" commented on 15 September that "the bitter reality today is that many people are [still] witness to the seizure of their property by powerful people." Without naming names, "Anis" wrote that "today, a number of people who possessed nothing until yesterday own everything," claiming that "a number of well-known people now have 100 to 120 houses" in the most exclusive districts of Kabul. The paper asked if human rights and social justice are served when people's homes are seized and destroyed and their inhabitants are forced to move to the outskirts of the city. AT

KYRGYZ PREMIER SAYS KYRGYZSTAN WILL NOT ASK FOR WITHDRAWAL OF COALITION BASE
Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev told a news conference on 15 September that Kyrgyzstan will not ask for the closure of the base being used by the international antiterrorism coalition to support its operations in Afghanistan, Interfax reported. Tanaev said he was reacting to a call by a number of parliamentarians for the annulment of the agreement on use of coalition air bases in Kyrgyzstan. That agreement, ratified by the Kyrgyz parliament in December 2001, can be annulled if either side informs the other of its intention to withdraw 180 days before the agreement expires. Otherwise, the agreement is automatically extended for another year. Tanaev said that the Kyrgyz government considers it unwise to annul the agreement because Afghanistan still poses a threat in the region. BB

TAJIK OFFICIAL SAYS MOST DRUGS BEING TRAFFICKED THROUGH AREAS GUARDED BY RUSSIANS
Rustam Nazarov, director of Tajikistan's Drug Control Agency, told a news conference on 15 September that up to 90 percent of the contraband drugs being trafficked into Tajikistan from Afghanistan are being brought in through areas guarded by Russian border troops, RIA-Novosti reported. Nazarov attributed this to the successful blocking of the highway to Osh in neighboring Kyrgyzstan as a drug-transit route. He quoted international estimates that 70 percent of Afghanistan's drug output is exported through Iran and Pakistan, with 30 percent passing through Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. BB

IRAN'S NATIONAL-RELIGIOUS ACTIVISTS SAID TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR JUNE UNREST
Tehran Deputy Prosecutor Mohammad Jafar Saberi-Zafarqandi told reporters after the 15 September court hearing of people accused of participating in Tehran's June unrest that the national-religious (melli-mazhabi) group was behind the events, IRNA reported. Mehdi Aminizadeh, Mikail Azimi, Ali Asghar Rahmani-Nejad, Mohammad Rezai, Ali Asghar Sadeghi, and Behruz Tayarani are accused of "acting against national security" and "aiming to disturb the public peace." Furthermore, according to the prosecutor, the six are accused of establishing a nongovernmental organization (NGO) as a cover for the illegal activities of the national-religious activists and of having contacts with the national-religious activists who guided the disturbances via the NGO. Saberi-Zafarqandi said the accused have confessed and requested clemency, and the prosecutor has requested reduced sentences for them because they cooperated during their interrogations and expressed contrition. BS

IRANIAN LEGISLATURE'S CLERICS MEET WITH GUARDIANS COUNCIL
Parliamentarian Assadollah Kian-Ersi, who represents a constituency in Isfahan Province, said clerical members of the legislature met with the Guardians Council on 9 September to discuss the upcoming parliamentary election, "Siyasat-i Ruz" daily newspaper reported on 15 September. Both sides agreed on the need for extensive public participation in the election, with Kian-Ersi saying, "One should try to win the trust of the people in order to increase their motivation for extensive participation in the elections." He added that the two sides discussed the impact of foreign affairs and domestic problems on the public. Both sides also agreed, according to the daily, that "the best way to maintain and strengthen the pillars of the system is to act according to the guidelines of Imam Khomeini (may he rest in peace), and to keep in mind the values and aspirations of the Islamic revolution." BS

TEHRAN CONTEMPLATES IAEA RESOLUTION
Vice President for Atomic Energy Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi said during the 47th regular session of the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on 15 September that Iran will continue its cooperation within the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), IRNA reported. Turning to the 12 September IAEA Board of Governors resolution on Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2003), Aqazadeh-Khoi said, "We have serious problems with this resolution. From its inconsistency with the NPT to its deadline for cooperation and its venomous language," which he said are "all problematic." He described this as a "preliminary view" and said an official response will be forthcoming "in a few days." Aqazadeh-Khoi criticized the way in which the resolution was secured. "This is unilateralism at its worst, that is to say, extreme unilateralism posed under a multilateralist cloak," he said. "We believe there is more to this resolution that meets the eye.... There is an agenda behind it that is conceived in escalating tension and chaos to divert attention from serious issues that deal with partial politics in the United States." He also asked who has provided Israel with nuclear weapons and reiterated Iranian commitment to a region free of nuclear weapons. BS

DRAFT WEAPONS REPORT: NO EVIDENCE IRAQ HAD WMD BEFORE WAR
A draft report by U.S. weapons inspector David Kay, who heads the Iraq Survey Group, reportedly provides no concrete evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) when the United States launched Operation Iraqi Freedom in March, Reuters cited ABC-TV news as reporting on 15 September. Citing unidentified officials, ABC reported that Kay's unreleased report will detail Iraq's effort to maintain its capability of producing WMD. U.S. officials have reportedly denied the ABC report, saying the search for WMD remains under way. Meanwhile, IAEA head Muhammad el-Baradei reportedly wrote in a confidential report to his agency that UNMOVIC/IAEA inspections determined that Iraq's nuclear program was in such disorder that it is unlikely Iraq could have supported such a program, AP reported on 15 September. "In the areas of uranium acquisition, concentration and centrifuge enrichment, extensive field investigation and document analysis revealed no evidence that Iraq had resumed such activities," El-Baradei said in the report. "No indication of post-1991 weaponization activities was uncovered in Iraq." KR

AL-KHALDIYA POLICE CHIEF KILLED
Three gunmen on 15 September killed Al-Khaldiya's police chief at a traffic circle on the outskirts of Al-Fallujah, international media reported. Colonel Khudair Mukhlif Ali, 48, was shot approximately 25 times, his driver told AP. The incident occurred as Ali was being driven to his home in Al-Fallujah, located some 85 kilometers west of Baghdad. Ali's vehicle was hit by machine-gun fire as it slowed to approach the traffic circle, killing Ali and wounding his driver and bodyguard. Ali, a former Iraqi Army officer, had been chief of police for two months, and reportedly had received several threats stemming from his association with coalition forces. But Al-Khaldiya police officer Ahmad Juma'a told AP that Ali had recently been pursuing a "gang of car thieves who had repeatedly threatened to kill him." Al-Khaldiya is located within the "Sunni Triangle" that has remained a hotbed for attacks on coalition forces since the downfall of Saddam Hussein's regime. The town is located some 35 kilometers west of Al-Fallujah. KR

CONSTITUTIONAL-DRAFTING COMMITTEE TO BE ELECTED
Fu'ad Ma'sum, the head of the preparatory committee of the Iraqi constitutional congress and member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), has said that members of the constitutional-drafting committee will be elected -- not appointed, Baghdad media reported on 13 September. According to the newspaper "Al-Ittijah al-Akhar," Ma'sum told reporters in Al-Najaf that committee members have decided to elect a drafting committee, but he did not announce a date for the elections. Ma'sum, who was in Al-Najaf to meet with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, also told reporters that "a population census [will] be organized prior to the election," "Al-Ittihad" reported. Meanwhile, Preparatory Committee member Fada al-Din Muhammad al-Sistani told reporters that the drafting committee must be elected in order for it to truly reflect the will of the Iraqi people, "Al-Ittijah al-Akhar" reported. KR

REPORTERS OBSERVE NEW IRAQI ARMY
The U.S. military flew a pool of reporters into the Kirkush Camp on 15 September to see 750 New Iraqi Army recruits in action, international media reported. The recruits have nearly completed their two-month basic-training course, and will soon be attached to the U.S. 4th Infantry Division, based in Tikrit, Reuters reported. The soldiers include former members of Hussein's army, accounting for two-thirds of the new recruits, as well as Kurdish peshmerga fighters who once opposed the Hussein regime. U.S. officers told Reuters that some 3,000 individuals have registered at recruitment centers in Baghdad, Mosul, and Al-Basrah. "By this time next year I want 35,000 men in 27 infantry battalions," U.S. Major General Paul Eaton said. Eaton, a former commander of the U.S. Army's infantry school at Fort Benning, Georgia, oversees the training of the new army. U.S.-based Vinnell Corporation holds the contract to train the army (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 24 July 2003). KR

SECURITY STEPPED UP IN AL-SULAYMANIYAH
Officials have stepped up security in the northern Iraqi city of Al-Sulaymaniyah following recent terrorist attacks in that city and in nearby Irbil, London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 14 September. Checkpoints have been established on a number of side streets in Al-Sulaymaniyah, while roads leading to government agencies have reportedly been closed altogether. Security forces have also reportedly been equipped with devices to check vehicles for explosives. The daily also reported that local security forces have arrested an unknown number of Ansar Al-Islam militants belonging to a sleeper cell in the city. Ansar militants are suspected of being behind recent attacks on city officials. Al-Sulaymaniyah is under the control of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) headed by Jalal Talabani. KR

ALBANIAN SOLDIER INJURED IN IRAQI GRENADE ATTACK
Unknown militants in the Iraqi city of Mosul threw a grenade at a group of Albanian soldiers on 15 September, injuring at least one Albanian and 13 Iraqi bystanders, Reuters reported. Details of the incident remain unclear (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June and 29 July 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 February, 28 March, and 27 June 2003). PM

OFFICIAL SAYS RUSSIA NOT CONSIDERING TROOPS FOR IRAQ
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov said on 15 September that the possibility of Russia contributing troops to a stabilization force in Iraq is "not being considered," ITAR-TASS reported on 15 September. Fedotov reiterated the Russian view that the United Nations' role in stabilizing Iraq should be strengthened, adding that it is important "to set a clear timetable for forming a new government and to draw up a mandate for multinational forces in Iraq." Earlier this month, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said that Russia might be open to contributing troops to a multinational force in Iraq in the near future (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September 2003). As for a new UN Security Council resolution on Iraq, Fedotov said, "The most important thing is not the speed with which a resolution is passed on Iraq, but reaching a consensus on the Iraqi problem in the Security Council," ITAR-TASS reported. JB

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